He was best the football player for Cambodia for most of the 2019 Southeast Asian Games. But when it mattered most, he uncharacteristically let his country down.
Such were the twist and turns of Keo Sokpheng’s stint with Cambodia’s national football team, which suffered another heartbreaking loss, this time in a bronze medal match versus Myanmar at the Rizal Memorial Stadium yesterday.
Myanmar beat Cambodia via a penalty shootout to bring home the bronze in men’s football of the 2019 SEA Games.
The two teams were tied, 2-2, after 90 minutes, sending the game into a penalty shootout to decide the winner.
In the shootout, Myanmar went ahead, 5-4, after the fifth round of kicks. Then it was the turn of Sokpheng.
Sokpheng strode confidently towards the penalty mark, with every one of Cambodia’s fans expecting him to tie the score. But to their utter surprise and disappointment, Sokpheng’s attempt hit the post, ending Cambodia’s hopes of winning a bronze medal.
Just like with its match against Myanmar in the group stage, the third place game started well for Cambodia. Myanmar overcame an early deficit to beat Cambodia, 2-1, in the Group A qualifier.
Eighteen seconds into the game, forward Sieng Chanthea scored to give Cambodia a 1-0 lead. Chanthea’s goal is said to be the fastest goal ever scored in SEA Games football.
But a few minutes later the charges of Velizar Popov tied it courtesy of a Aung Kauang Mann header, which goalie Keo Soksela failed to stop.
In the 35th minute, Myanmar attacking midfielder Myat Kaung Khant was awarded a penalty kick from the edge of the box after he was brought down by defender Tes Sambath.
Kaung Khant kicked the ball straight into the goal over a wall of defenders and Soksela, who momentarily froze, giving Myanmar a 2-1 edge.
After that, Cambodia went hard for the equalizer to no avail. The Angkor Warriors did have several excellent chances to score late in the first half and early in the second half, but were always out of luck.
In more than one occasion, forward Reung Bunheing missed wide when presented with a scoring opportunity up close.
Midfielder In Sodavid’s shot from distance in the 57th minute was headed straight for the goal, only to be saved by Myanmar keeper Sann Sat Naing.
Myanmar, which dominated the possessions game, also has more than a few opportunities to pad their lead. Kaung Mann failed to convert two scoring opportunities in the 26th and 50th minute.
With time ticking down, Cambodia desperately went for an equalizer and was rewarded in the 71st minute when Sokpheng’s curling penalty kick hit the back of the net after evading the outstretched arms of Sat Naing.
Myanmar had a golden opportunity to score in the waning seconds, but an excellent defensive play by Soksela prevented it.
For a time it appeared that Sokpheng would once again play hero for Cambodia, before his costly miss in the penalty shootout domed Cambodia’s chances.
Shortly after the game, an apparently distraught Sokpheng collapsed on the field, before Cambodia mentor Felix Dalmas came over to comfort him.
The match was testy at times. Late in the first half, Kaung Mann and Cambodian defender Ouk Sovann went after each other. The fight escalated before both teams were pacified by game officials.
Cambodia’s fourth place finish is its best showing since first joining the SEA Games in 1959. It is also a big improvement from the 2017 SEA Games where Cambodia lost all five matches in group stage.
Myanmar, meanwhile, did better this time after finishing fourth in the 2017 SEA Games in Malaysia. Myanmar’s latest win also means that its dominance of Cambodia in international football continues.